INTERVIEW – In Conversation With Mike French (Author & Illustrator, Fictional Alignment)

By Marty Mulrooney

FictionalAlignmentMikeFrenchInterview

Fictional Alignment is the highly anticipated sequel to An Android Awakes, which AMO described in its 2016 review as “a science fiction novel filled to the brim with humour, violence, thought-provoking content and great imagination.” Promising a satire exploring a future in which androids control culture, Fictional Alignment looks set to be just as imaginative and memorable as its predecessor. It is therefore with great pleasure that Alternative Magazine Online presents an exclusive online interview with the book’s hugely talented author and illustrator, Mike French!

Hi Mike, thank you for your time and welcome back to Alternative Magazine Online!

Hi, Martin – thank you, it’s good to be back!

What have you been up to since our last interview in early 2016?

Two major things happened. The first was our builders started a ground floor extension for my eldest son, Matthew who needed a disabled bedroom and wet room. The second was I started writing again, which was an interesting experience – ideally I like peace and quiet when I’m writing!

And then there was the small matter of turning fifty, but the less said about that the better.

I was very excited when the sequel to An Android Awakes was announced – was a follow-up always on the cards?

No, not really. An Android Awakes was always intended as a one-off. And although the book did well critically, the sales weren’t so amazing and I had a real sense of crisis about carrying on as a writer with so little money coming in. It got as bad as saying on social media that I was finished as an author – I remember spending the whole day in tears.

But by July 2016 I had some thoughts about how I could carry on by applying for a writing grant. Spurred on by that idea, I came up with a concept within which I could revisit some of the characters in An Android Awakes whilst taking that world in a new direction. The spark for that really came about after watching the film Remainder based on Tom McCarthy’s novel. I spoke to my publisher Elsewhen Press about it and they liked it and so I started writing again whilst I waited to see if I was successful in getting my funding.

Then the bad news came a few days before Christmas 2016 that I had not got the grant. That was a bit of a blow. No, that’s a lie. It was worse than that, like being a kid on holiday again and watching someone walk up to my sandcastle and kick the shit out of it.

After a while though and after chatting about it with my wife, we decided that I was so far into the novel that I should carry on and try not to worry that my financial contribution to the family was less than next door’s kid’s paper round!

The front cover by Tony Allcock looks great! How did you end up working together?

Yes, I’m glad you like it – I loved it when I saw it! I had never worked with Tony before, but my wife Emma had chatted to him a few times as they used to work at the same company. And then, around the time I was wondering about the cover options, he asked her how my writing was getting on. That led to us getting in touch and within a month it was all finished and done!

What is the premise of Fictional Alignment?

In the future our society is controlled by androids who decide that fiction is not an effective means of communication. To them, facts are all that matter in all walks of life and they believe truth can only be effectively conveyed through these facts.

What is The Fictional Alignment Act?

It lays down the criteria by which any writing must be measured by. A text should be coherent with the facts and have an internal coherence within itself. If it is not it is amended or in many cases the work is destroyed. If that is not possible, if for example a work of fiction from the past is too deeply embedded within the internet, then they travel back in time to realign reality so it agrees with the work of fiction – thereby making it fact.

It effectively means that in Fictional Alignment you get to see some of the stories contained within An Android Awakes reconstructed in fine detail in reality – like watching a snuff movie being shot down the end of your street, but in a way that it all appears to be real.

I found the whole thing fascinating as the concept means that the novel ends up dealing with themes like, how important are facts in our society? Who decides what is factual? Is fiction only for entertainment or is there something more profound about it?

Will this new novel stand alone, or is it very much a sequel written for those who read the original book?

It does stand alone and you can very easily read it without having read An Android Awakes. But certainly if you pick up An Android Awakes first the experience of Fictional Alignment afterwards will be deeper and richer.

I found the format of An Android Awakes very original, with seemingly unrelated short science fiction stories coming together to form a satisfying and coherent whole. Does the format stay the same or differ in Fictional Alignment?

Fictional Alignment is a full length science fiction novel, so it’s different in that respect to An Android Awakes. An Android Awakes was like a taster menu – Fictional Alignment is the main course, where you get the same elements but on a much grander scale. The experience though will hopefully be different to reading a normal novel – we have worked for ages to design the book in a way that adds elements in that you maybe wouldn’t normally experience in a novel – symbols, art, floating pieces of prose and black pages where I want the reader to pause for a moment, much as you would do with sequential art.

Who is Sapphira and how would you describe her character?

Sapphira is the prostitute that appears briefly in An Android Awakes. In this novel she moves centre stage and becomes the main protagonist. She is half Russian, her mother is from Bryansk and her father from Minnesota. She believes that she has made a pact with God never to die in a defiant attempt to make God show her that he loves her after what has, to date, been a traumatic life for her full of loss and abuse. She is feisty, resilient and creative and her character undergoes a transformation from a prostitute in An Android Awakes, to an author in Fictional Alignment and finally to …. well, I can’t say here – spoilers! – but she is not the same person at the end of the novel from the Sapphira we first meet in An Android Awakes.

Fictional Alignment actually deals with ‘fake news’ in a big way. Have current events shaped the narrative at all?

Maybe subconsciously. Facts are never as objective as we would like to think and we live in a society where everything has to be boiled down into factual quick soundbites. That of course is open to massive abuse, disinformation, an escalation of the weaponising of information and a loss of truth. And today we call that fake news. The novel looks at that and questions if as a society we have lost sight of what truth means and how to best communicate it.

To be honest, it worries me. We are increasingly understanding unfolding events and who we are in such short bursts of data that I fear we will all know vast amounts of information and at the same time know nothing at all. Truth for me is best communicated through stories and art and I just don’t think a lot of people have time for that anymore in their busy lives.

Karl Brown illustrated the first book, but here you’ve taken over the reins. What made you decide to illustrate – as well as write – this latest novel?

The plan at first was to just do prose for the sequel. At over 93 thousand words there isn’t a lot of space left for illustrations. But towards the end stages I decided that there would be space for maybe seven to eight illustrations. Karl was very busy in other projects and so I decided that I would do them. I could never have done the amount of work that was required for An Android Awakes – not without about five years of work – but I thought I could find time for a few for the sequel.

Are there any revelations in Fictional Alignment that may surprise people?

Yes, a number of them! And one of those may prove very controversial where one of the central aspects of the Christian faith is discovered to be wrong when they go back in time. Some people, who are maybe more religious, may find that difficult or offensive. But it is integral and important to the story, rather than being in there to shock. Normally that kind of thing shouldn’t worry an author, but a lot of my friends are Christians, so they may be some difficult conversations ahead. Hopefully it won’t come to placards outside my house at dawn!

An Android Awakes received impressive critical acclaim from Alternative Magazine Online and many other reviewers. Was it daunting to start writing a sequel?

No, I think as was so relieved to be writing again, that I just enjoyed myself. I never worry about what people will think of it as I’m writing – but afterwards, once it’s all done and out in the wild, then I do start to worry a bit. Especially the placards – I have hired extra security.

What – in your opinion – makes science fiction such a powerful medium to explore current events and universal human truths?

It enables you to put your characters into a completely artificial (but hopefully believable and credible) future to see how they will react outside of the norms we are used to. Often what we accept now as normal and benign may have disastrous effects on us in the future. Black Mirror is a good example of this in their episode ArkAngel. It took something that is real now, like VidAngel which snips out adult content from films, and shows us how that might play out in the future with disastrous results. Science fiction is really just a good way to explore what it means to be human – a lens as it where, to see what we are truly like in extreme circumstances. I remember one of my teachers making a comment after a kid had gone berserk and stormed out of the classroom, that you really get to see what people are like when they are under stress. Science fiction is the stress you use in order to tell your story.

Have you seen Blade Runner 2049 yet?

Yes, I saw it at the cinema when it came out. I absolutely loved it, easily in my top five films of all time. I think one of the producers said, after seeing a final cut, that ‘We’ve just made the most expensive art house movie in cinema history.’ Often in films – which are supposed to be a visual medium, there is way too much info dumping in dialogue, but here the story was told beautifully through the visuals – a real treat.

What’s next for you Mike?

I have the beginnings of an idea for a third book for An Android Awakes, but way too early to share that yet!

Thank you for your time – I’ve already read some of Fictional Alignment and from what I can tell, it’s going to be every bit as oddball, enjoyable and original as its predecessor. I’ll look forward to receiving my ARC in the post! 🙂

Great, I hope you enjoy it!

Official Website: http://anandroidawakes.com/
Buy now for Kindle (UK): https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B078XGJWGL
Pre-order in paperback (UK): https://www.waterstones.com/book/fictional-alignment/mike-french/9781911409205

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